24 August 2010

Org-mode, gnuplot, and The Fall [2 of 2]

This is part one of a two part post on The Fall and org-mode/gnuplot. Part 1 dealt with The Fall; this post will focus on the methods used to make the plots and some other info.

I ended up writing up what I learned in the process of making my graphs for the fall in a more comprehensive document. It's looking like it will make it on Worg, the org-mode wiki site. Rather than rehash exactly what I did for the fall graphs, then, I thought I'd just post a modified version of my write-up instead. While the data tables and specific points are different, these three examples cover how I made the graphs for the fall.

The examples below assume at least some familiarity with org-mode and/or gnuplot. While the code is written in org-mode babel blocks, the same lines would work from a gnuplot terminal as well. For a quick-start, check out:

- Org-mode manual on gnuplot
- A gnuplot tutorial
- The gnuplot homepage

One last note: for quality purposes, I have exported to .eps and then used ImageMagick to convert to .png images. If you are not familiar with ImageMagick or don't want to use it, remove the
set terminal postscript color solid eps enhanced 20
line from the examples below and change all instances of
:file file-name.eps
to
:file file-name.png
and that should export directly to .png files for you.

Here we go!

-----

I have inquired about some various tips and tricks on the org-mode mailing list regarding the use of gnuplot and I thought I would put together a short piece on what I've come to use and understand so that it's all in one place.

On that note… this information is all available elsewhere: the org-mode mailing list, blogs, the gnuplot manual and so on. All I'm doing is putting together some things I consider handy right in one place for ease of use. I'll try to make reference to original sources where possible.

To get gnuplot up and running, follow the guide on worg.1

Once babel and gnuplot are working in org-mode, the setup is generally like this:

Data Table (if pulling from a table and not a formula)
#+tblname: data-table| x | y1 | y2 ||---+----+----|| 0 | 3  | 6  || 1 | 4  | 7  || 2 | 5  | 8  |

Gnuplot Source Block
#+begin_src gnuplot :var data=data-table :file output.png  gnuplot code goes here#+end_src

On to examples!

Named X-Tics

Summary
This option allows one to have named tics on the x-axis (I'm not sure if named y-tics are possible). This option is possible already if the x value column contains names, but this option allows for placing the named tics wherever one wants. With the "normal" way (just setting the x index for a column with names) will evenly space the names along the x-axis.6 I wanted non-uniform spacing.7

Make a table with a column for the value of the x-tic (location is another way to think of it), another column with the name (label) for each x-tic, and then add whatever subsequent y values should correspond.

Example
#+tblname: x-tics|----------+-------+------|| tic name | x-loc | Dead ||----------+-------+------|| Civil    |  1861 | 0.62 || WWI      |  1914 |  9.8 || WWII     |  1939 |   24 || Nam      |  1955 |  1.5 || Gulf     |  1990 | 0.04 ||----------+-------+------|

And here is the gnuplot code we'll useOrg-mode, gnuplot, and The Fall [2 of 2]

#+begin_src gnuplot :var data=x-tics :file x-tics.eps :results silent  reset  set terminal postscript color solid eps enhanced 20   set yrange [0:25]  set xtics ("1850" 1850, "2010" 2010)  set xrange [1850:2010]  set ylabel "Deaths (MM)"  set xlabel "Wars in Time"  set title 'War Deaths'    plot data using 2:3:xticlabels(1) w p lw 3 notitle#+end_src

Notes
For more than one set of y values, just do something like this:
plot data u 2:3:xticlabels(1) w lines title 'Set1',\data u 2:4:xticlabels(1) w lines title 'Set2',\data u 2:5:xticlabels(1) w lines title 'Set3',\

Different Scales

Summary
Different scales are accomplished through multiplot by making small graphs and then adjusting their sizes, origins (position), and margins in order to overlay them side-by-side to create the appearance of a single graph.8 9

Example
#+tblname: world-pop|----------+--------+------|| tic name |  x-loc |  Pop ||----------+--------+------||   10k BC | -10000 |    1 ||          |  -9000 |    3 ||          |  -8000 |    5 ||          |  -7000 |    7 ||          |  -6000 |   10 ||          |  -5000 |   15 ||          |  -4000 |   20 ||          |  -3000 |   25 ||          |  -2000 |   35 ||          |  -1000 |   50 ||          |   -500 |  100 ||     AD 1 |      1 |  200 ||     1000 |   1000 |  310 ||     1750 |   1750 |  791 ||     1800 |   1800 |  978 ||     1850 |   1850 | 1262 ||     1900 |   1900 | 1650 ||     \'50 |   1950 | 2519 ||          |   1955 | 2756 ||          |   1960 | 2982 ||          |   1965 | 3335 ||          |   1970 | 3692 ||     \'75 |   1975 | 4068 ||          |   1980 | 4435 ||          |   1985 | 4831 ||          |   1990 | 5263 ||          |   1995 | 5674 ||          |   2000 | 6070 ||     2005 |   2005 | 6454 ||----------+--------+------|

The code is as follows:

#+begin_src gnuplot :var data=world-pop :file world-pop.eps :results silent  reset  set terminal postscript color solid eps enhanced 20  set xrange [ -10000 : 1 ]  set yrange [ 0 : 7000 ]  set xlabel "Time"  set multiplot  set size 0.275,1  set origin 0.0,0.0  set lmargin 10  set rmargin 0  set ylabel "Population (MM)"  plot data using 2:3:xticlabels(1) with lines lw 3 notitle  set origin 0.275,0.0  set size 0.15,1  set format y ""  set lmargin 0  set rmargin 0  set xrange [2 : 1750]  set ylabel ""  plot data using 2:3:xticlabels(1) with lines lw 3 notitle  set origin 0.425,0.0  set size 0.575,1  set format y ""  set lmargin 0  set rmargin 2  set xrange [1751 : 2005]  set ylabel ""  plot data using 2:3:xticlabels(1) with lines lw 3 notitle  set nomultiplot#+end_src

Notes
• Size sets the width/height of the piece
• Origin sets where the plot begins: left at (0,0), middle at (left-size,0), and right at (left-size + middle-size,0)
• Margins determine the border spacing. Left has enough for the Y-axis
title (lmargin) and 0 for rmargin, middle has 0 for both (to
seamlessly fit with left and right), and right has 0 lmargin and a
little rmargin to make things look nice
• I use xranges like so: [x1 : x2], [x2+1 : x3], [x3+1 : x4]
• The set ylabel "" is there on the middle and right pieces to keep the labels from repeating on each y axis
• It's possible to remove the y axes by using "border set" options for each piece
• Left would want "set border 1+2+4", mid = "set border 1+4", and right = "set border 1+4+8"
• Use "set noytics" to remove the floating tic lines
• I found this visually appealing but potentially confusing since no y-axes for each slice might give the illusion that the x-axis is the same scale. If the y axes are there, it makes one realize that there is something else going on…
• Note that there is no title and there are three x-axis labels. Each "piece" gets its own – I suppose I could set it to null using 'set xlabel ""' but wanted to illustrate the behavior. Setting a title would create three titles so I left it off. Perhaps there's a way to manually place the title but I'm too unfamiliar to be aware of it right now.

Broken Axis

Summary
One can use arrows to break up axes very cleverly.10 11 12 The general method is to draw 6 arrows to break the x-axes both at the top and the bottom: 4 diagonal and 2 white (to create the illusion of a break).

While the following is not really to scale, I think the example of a far distant date with a broken line and then some recent dates shows how this can work in an esthetically pleasing way. We'll just use the same world population data, but modify it a tad.

Example
#+tblname: broken-axis|-----------+-------+-----+------||  tic name | x-loc | Pre | Post ||-----------+-------+-----+------|| 10,000 BC |  1600 |   1 |      ||           |  1650 |  15 |      ||      AD 1 |  1700 | 200 |      ||      1750 |  1750 |     |  791 ||      1800 |  1800 |     |  978 ||      1850 |  1850 |     | 1262 ||      1900 |  1900 |     | 1650 ||      \'50 |  1950 |     | 2519 ||           |  1955 |     | 2756 ||           |  1960 |     | 2982 ||           |  1965 |     | 3335 ||           |  1970 |     | 3692 ||      \'75 |  1975 |     | 4068 ||           |  1980 |     | 4435 ||           |  1985 |     | 4831 ||           |  1990 |     | 5263 ||           |  1995 |     | 5674 ||           |  2000 |     | 6070 ||      2005 |  2005 |     | 6454 ||-----------+-------+-----+------|

The code to be used:

#+begin_src gnuplot :var data=broken-axis :file broken-axis.eps :results silent  reset  set terminal postscript color solid eps enhanced 20  A=1725  B=1600  C=2010  D=0  E=6500  xoff=.005*(C-B)  yoff=.02*(E-D)  set arrow 1 from A-xoff, D to A+xoff, D nohead lw 2 lc rgb "#ffffff" front  set arrow 2 from A-xoff, E to A+xoff, E nohead lw 2 lc rgb "#ffffff" front  set arrow 3 from A-xoff-xoff, D-yoff to A+xoff-xoff, D+yoff nohead front  set arrow 4 from A-xoff+xoff, D-yoff to A+xoff+xoff, D+yoff nohead front  set arrow 5 from A-xoff-xoff, E-yoff to A+xoff-xoff, E+yoff nohead front  set arrow 6 from A-xoff+xoff, E-yoff to A+xoff+xoff, E+yoff nohead front  set xrange [B:C]  set yrange [D:E]  set xlabel 'Time'  set ylabel 'Population (MM)'  set title 'World Population'  plot data u 2:3:xticlabels(1) w l lw 3 notitle,\  data u 2:4:xticlabels(1) w l lw 3 lc 1 notitle#+end_src

Notes
In any case, from the above:
• A->E are just used to set the break location (A) and the xrange (B,C) and yrange (D,E)
• xoff/yoff have to do with the break. xoff is the gap created in the x-axis and yoff is the height above and below the scale. The multipliers work for this example but may need to get tinkered with for others.
• The arrows draw the 4 diagonal lines and a white line in between them to create the actual break
• I used two sets of y values and two plot commands to create the break between AD 1 and 1750. This is not always needed. See footnote 4 for how to do this with a continuous function (the site uses sin x) and an "offset" variable to bump the whole thing over a tad.

The example at gnuplot-tricks uses a continuous function (sin x) which probably works the best since the x-axis scale is the same. In this case, though, the axis is "cheated" in that it is not only broken, but the scale is artificially manipulated. In the data chart, we should have had population values at 10,000 BC, 5,000 BC, and 1 AD. Instead I put them at 1600, 1650 and 1700 AD. The spacing is proportionate, but scaled by 100x (5,000 years vs. 50). Compared to the plot from 1750-2005 it's obviously not the same x-axis scale. While not technically correct, I think it's perhaps more visually appealing, especially where scale is not too important. To get the point across, it does the job very well: left of break was not much growth, then in a much smaller time scale to the right of the break, much population growth occurred. The multi-axes/scales in the previous section illustrates more correctly with respect to scale, but I think this example is cleaner.

Faith and Certitude | Non-believers are defective

Back to Series Index >>
This is part of a series of notes in response to "Faith and Certitude" by Thomas Dubay

Main Argument: If-you-don't-believe-in-Christianity-you-are-defective

As odd as it sounds, I really think the whole case of this book can be reduced to this argument. I'll primarily be putting together quotes that illustrate that this really is the argument put forth in the book. Here goes, then…
I have found over and over again that listeners who are already predisposed by moral goodness and a love for beauty eagerly accept the gospel when they hear it. They may have initial difficulties, but they work through them. As Jesus himself put it, his sheep do hear his voice (Jn 10:27). Even though they begin outside his flock, when they hear his word of truth, it strikes a sympathetic note in their heart and they respond. Their moral integrity has already prepared them, sensitized them for the completion of what the invisible word has already wrought. (pg. 31-32)

Translation:
• if you do not eagerly accept the gospel, you are not predisposed by moral goodness and love
• if you do not believe the gospel, you have not been prepared by your moral integrity
The Second Vatican Council stated that the divine evidences to which the Church can appeal are both so many and so striking that a Catholic's faith cannot be shaken by a serious and objective doubt. Further, said the Council, a person who humbly accepts the divine light given by grace cannot fall prey to even subjective doubt which rests on false presuppositions or erroneous deductions. (pg. 33)

Translation:
• There is no challenge that will ever show that the Catholic Church's beliefs are possibly (or definitely) wrong… ever. You know this because a council said so.
• If you fall prey to subjective doubt you
• do not have grace and/or divine light
• have been hoodwinked by false presuppositions or bad logic
Evidences for the basic truths of religion build up slowly in the course of a person's life. The ordinary individual gradually reflects on the splendors of the universe, on the magnitude of the sea and the sun and the galaxies, on the intricacies of the human body and our inability to construct a single cell of it... His own conscience bears witness to him that there is a supreme lawgiver to whom he is accountable. He yearns for joy and love and knows it cannot be found in this life. For these and other reasons this person slowly grows in the conviction that God is. (pg 41)

Translation:
• If you do not reflect on the things mentioned here you are not ordinary
• What you intuit with your moral sense is correct if you think it forecasts a man in the sky who planted laws in your heart
• If you want love and joy and it cannot be in this life, there is obviously another life in which you really can find it
In a similar manner he becomes convinced that the Church enjoys a divine origin and protection. He first learned it in his catechism lessons, but as an adult he comes to see many reasons confirming his early instructions. The sheer superhuman beauty and coherence of her teaching slowly dawns on him. Her fidelity to moral truth in a world that bends to secular pressures speaks of a superhuman guarantee. The continual persecutions she has suffered through the centuries and still suffers today indicate something radically unworldly about her. He sees eventually that she alone can point to saints whose heroic holiness has been established by detailed and sworn testimony. It dawns upon him one day that the saints are genuine advertisements of what the Church teaches, and he realizes how she sanctifies when a person says yes to her entire message. He hears or reads about the thousands of carefully documented miracles that occur in her bosom. The imposing size and unity and catholicity of the Church, unlike anything else in the world, proclaim her divine origin. For these and other reasons he recognizes the divine handwriting upon her. (pg. 42)

Wow. That was a lot. When we strip away all of the superfluous descriptors, we're left with Dubay's formal case for Catholicism:
• Beauty and coherence of teaching
• Refusal to change moral truths regardless of what outside influences recommend or do
• Survival of persecutions
• Saints
• Miracles
• Size and unity

Just to end with one more…
A whole library of books has been written to bring out the astonishing and sheer splendor of the Figure so artlessly described in the four Gospels. So lofty, so consistent, so pure, so sufficing, so beautiful are his person and his message that they can have no source but divinity

What about the doubts that do come along? Well, in a continuation from the assertion that Vatican II stated that no doubts will ever be troublesome, we are not surprised by Dubay's instruction:

...what does one rightly do when an objection or difficulty presents itself?...What we should do in the presence of a difficulty is what any reasonable person does when a well-founded certitude is attacked or questioned: he remains calm and retains his certitude. I do not doubt the existence of Paris because a misguided tourist errs in his description of the city. Nor do I question that water freezes at 0o centigrade simply because in an experiment I find that some waterlike substance does not freeze at that temperature. So also I do not hesitate at the clear message of the New Testament that Jesus is divine because on or another text presents a problem to my mind. This would be like doubting that George Washington was the first president of the United States because in my reading I have come upon one or two historical obscurities that seem not to suppose it. Clear data explains obscure data, not vice versa. (pg. 42-43)

Quite the response, I'd say. What I find fascinating is that throughout this book, Dubay treats belief in Jesus Christ as so clear as to compare it to the existence of a city, the temperature at which a liquid freezes, and an extremely famous individual who lived within the last 250 years in a culture quite interested in the preservation of history. Yet as Sesame Street says, "One of these things is not like the other." Let's take a global survey and examine what percent of the population subscribes to Paris' existence, water freezing at 0o C, George Washington as the first US president… and the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. I would almost bet my life that three will be almost unanimous amongst educated individuals, while one will utterly tank in the percentage that support it. Given that it's so evidently clear… why is this?

My take is that Dubay believes that non-believers are defective, cut off from reality, ignorant of truth, and/or otherwise broken in some manner. This seems to be the only way he can explain the existence of nonbelievers. 2/3 - 3/4 of the world is mentally defective or broken.

On to the next post in the series: Why atheism fails >>

Faith and Certitude | Intro

Back to Series Index >>
This is part of a series of notes in response to "Faith and Certitude" by Thomas Dubay

Intro: skepticism = bad, trust in evidence = good

I'm beginning here, because this little point is something that Dubay returns to numerous times throughout his book. One of his longer chapters (2) is dedicated almost entirely to a discussion about forms of skepticism and it's counterpart, certitude. The subtitle for this page might seem puzzling, but all should be clear shortly.

Here is Dubay's definition of skepticism: "the unreasonable suspension of intellectual assent even in the presence of adequate evidence."

Merriam-Webster says it like this:
1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object

2. a: the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain b: the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics

3. doubt concerning basic religious principles (as immortality, providence, and revelation)

Right off the bat, we seem to have a problem. Dubay later separates somewhat of a "healthy" skepticism from "abnormal" or "dogmatic" skepticism later, however he doesn't offer any claficiation about this definition. I see no allusion in the dictionary to such attitudes being unreasonable or made in the face of evidence. I would say that the second definition comes the closest and would be more in line with a sort of philosophical skepticism where one doubts everything. Perhaps Dubay means to aim his definition at this version of skepticism?

Indeed he does start out with an attack on universal skepticism. By this he seems to mean the "evil-demon" sort of skepticism. Was the world created 5min ago? Does this room vanish when I leave? Am I real? While I can actually seem some truth to these endeavors, I think most could be brought to admit that all of the above are possible but 1) even if they were, they would not affect what we actually experience and 2) with no evidence that such things are so, we can simply go about on the assumption that the world is real until we start seeing glitches in the matrix.

Dubay then moves on to a discussion of partial skepticism. Rather than trying to summarize, I think it will be the easiest to simply lay out several of Dubay's quotes on this:

• "While complete doubt is a death, partial unreasonable doubt is an illness." (pg. 26)

• "Error is unfortunate, sometimes a disaster, because by it we lose contact, are literally in the dark. Because doubt it next of kin to error, it also tends to lessen contact and eventually to destroy it." (pg. 26)

• "God is the fact of all facts. to fail to see him in everything is a mental illness." (pg. 27)

And he contrasts this with healthy receptivity: "The normal person requires evidence for his intellectual assents. This is right and proper. But he is satisfied when adequate evidence is given." (pg 31)

I'm writing this up as a section all by itself because the whole books will build on this. Dubay hammers again and again that doubt and uncertainty in "reality" are fatalistic and trust in evidence is good… and if you've been asking "But what's the evidence?" you've been asking the right question. The rest of the book will, in my opinion, present hardly any evidence but spend almost the entire time on why one is wrong not to accept what little he points out.

Personally I found it odd that he spent so much time on this as I didn't think it was that necessary to pound home that doubting everything was unhealthy. I don't think many are in this category in the first place. I suspect that what's going on is a laying of the case for saying that the evidence is so good that if you doubt it, something is wrong with you. I think Dubay wants to make the choice between believe and dysfunction rather than admit the possibility of rationally justified non-belief.

On to the next post in the series: Main argument: If-you-don't-believe-in-Christianity-you-are-defective >>

23 August 2010

Can't we all just get along?

I'm becoming more and more certain that "coexist" bumper stickers are utter crap. Hardly anyone wants to coexist with anyone else. It's attractive only to the people who have [probably] barely any conception of god to begin with. Or to people who probably openly violate/disobey their religion's prescribed dogma to begin with.

Why do I say this?

I just got into a discussion about my current 'state' with a friend. I explained that I'm just not convinced at present that Christianity is true. I'm not sure how else to say it other than that. I'm also leaning more and more to the position that we probably don't have much or any choice in what we even find convincing. Seriously, when someone says, "X" to you, do you think overtly about whether to accept or reject X? On most occasions, I don't. I either immediately react to it as if it's actually so, I have some doubts, or I think it's utter bunk. But I don't spend much time thinking about which bin to chuck it in. Evidence can easily change that bin.

Quick case in point: email arrives stating that Microsoft is sponsoring a really awesome email beta program. For every person you forward the message to, Bill Gates will sens you $xxx. For every person they send it to, you'll get$(xxx-5) and so on. The writer of the email even say their uncle's cousin's dog's girlfriend's check at the UT-Baylor game and it said "Paid in full." Paid in full. People getting this email are in three categories:
• Don't even care for a second. Delete.

• Those that think, "Well, you just never know," and they hit the forward button, push it out to all their friends with the cute preamble, "Hey y'all... I don't normally do this, but it can't hurt, right? Tee hee hee."

• Those whose skeptic sirens burst into code red as reflexively a new tab opens in the browser, "Snopes" gets searched, and a hawk eye reading of the pertinent articles ensues.

I'm in the last group. The fact that I've received this email many, many times in the last 5 years (or more) means that there are many in the second group as well. I realize the first order reactions that take place, but how many people are consciously weighing the evidence in a 2nd order removed kind of way? I doubt that people really have a choice about how they respond when they get the email.

Where am I going with this?

The point is that if we're not all that in control, why do we treat each other like we are? Anyone who's delved into the atheism/theism debate with rigor knows its dubious, murky, non-obvious, and the like. It's not like asking what temperature water boils at. That sucks and I'm sorry to say it. It's the most important question I can think of right now, it's answerable by the being who created the entire universe and the one who knows the number of hairs on everyone's head in the whole world, but he's not answering it. Some have pity on those (like me) stuck in this murky water, but I'm writing about those who don't.

Some can't leave it alone. I feel like people talk to me like I'm broken, defective, pitiable, miserable, and the like. What's with that? Most people also can't just leave it alone and let it be a removed subject that can be discussed from a distance. No. Without much effort at all (and not even effort from me!), the conversation becomes an involved one in which the topic is not removed but very close. One of us needs to be wrong. I feel that I'm somewhat of a threat just by my existence. The fact that I don't find god to be obvious is a problem that needs to be handled.

Back to my conversation.

I was explaining my 'state': not convinced. Quite unsure, but simply not convinced that Christianity was true. The conversation happened to be about my participation in a Christian small group I've been in for a few years now. I was discussing whether or not I should stay in the group. I was fine with being there, but also recognized that my presence might hinder things or make conversation uncomfortable sometimes, etc. What surprised me is that rather than discuss alternatives and my take on pros/cons of someone in a Christian small group in my "state" (non-belief)... the conversation was brought (not by me) to why my state is thus. Basically it was as if I was instructed, "So, make your case then O Unconvinced One." Not quite that bluntly, but something like that. We went back and forth for a while about the gospels and their reliability and miracles and then it happened:

Him: Prove to me that god doesn't exist.
---
Me: I can't.
---
Him: Then he exists.

I couldn't believe it happened. That's nearly verbatim and I mean that. I responded with, "Well then so do fairies, unicorns, and leprechauns." The conversation didn't really go much further after that and I had to leave anyway. The point of this wasn't actually to illustrate poor logic, though I think that's clearly what this is. The point was that this type of conversation with this particular individual is recurring. It's not simply a point of misunderstanding. I'm wrong and that's how it has to be. I'm a threat, or so it seems to me. The first time we talked about my doubt, after about an hour or so of mini-debate, the conversation went like this:

Him: Well then what's the point. Why live at all?
---
Me: Umm. Because I want to.
---
Him: But why? Why should you?

We went around and around this circle several times. All the while I kept thinking, "Did he really just bring things here?".

Perhaps the point is still lost. I guess all I really wanted to get across is that for how difficult of a realm this is, few treat it so. Most treat it as though their position is the obvious and clear choice and the nay-sayers are idiots or dysfunctional somehow. I think this is false. I think we have little or no idea why in the world we end up where we do, even though we think we do. I love Pascal's "the heart has reasons that reason cannot know," for I think it applies to a lot more than he meant it to.

P.S. Oh, and there's a fourth group of the Microsoft Email recipients. It's called harvest-all-emails-from-the-forwarding-chain-and-reply-to-all-of-them-with-a-witty-and-cutting-response. I actually used this twice when the email came around a second time.

My preamble the second time:

And the original which followed the preamble above (1st sent 3 Aug 2007):

22 August 2010

Org-mode, gnuplot and The Fall [1 of 2]

This is part one of a two part post on The Fall and org-mode/gnuplot. This post focuses on graphically depicting some issues I have with The Fall; Part 2 focuses on the gnuplot code behind these plots.

As stated earlier, I use emacs and org-mode for my notes. I use this combo at work and home. Org-mode is incredibly powerful as it can export to all kinds of formats:

It would perhaps be more accurate to say that these are ways that org-mode is integrated with other document creation methods rather than to say that it "exports" these things itself. It's quite a modular beast and people have written tons of code to make it wonderfully awesome when doing various things.

Today I'll write about its integration with gnuplot, a text-file based plot creation package. Org-mode can already work with tables and this it's only natural to be able to get that table into a plot if you want to. As you'll have noticed, this post is also about the Christian doctrine of "The Fall," something that just fascinates me. I've long wanted to make up some graphs to illustrate some thoughts I've had on this doctrine and I finally did it. Part 2 will focus on the actual code and using org-mode to work with gnuplot; this post will just run through some fun illustrations.

When viewing the fall in light of evolution, I admit that I'm just plain stuck. I see no way to imagine how in the world the fall could have happened, even figuratively, given evolution. I've gotten into some incredibly intense discussions about the fall before and they have not been very satisfying. My general case is that to subscribe to the fall, you have to believe that:
• Two primates had a son/daughter such that the offspring:
• had a soul capable of eternal life and the parents did not
• had direct communication with god and the parents did not
• fully understood god's directives and their corresponding consequences as to be so morally culpable for disobedience that eternal death was merited
• the first humans and/or all other life were protected from natural disasters, flesh-eating bacteria, and all other harms
• whatever species of the homo genus the first soul-possessing humans were, they were a) directly intervened upon such that two simultaneously fulfilled the above conditions or b) that they evolved these traits somehow in the same generation and geographically proximate enough to mate and become the parents of all successive soul-bearing humans

Needless to say, I find some issues with this. As my Quest has gone on, one way to state my stance is that I'm simply finding naturalistic explanations far more appealing that what I perceive to be stretched, improbable, non-specific explanations on behalf of theism. In general, I find that these types of explanations take the general form of:
• there is something perplexing one observes (man's torn moral nature, appreciation for beauty, complexity/design, universe with beginning, consciousness, etc.)
• something divine is proposed as the answer (fallenness from some perfect state, a divine nature, god as designer/creator, an immaterial soul/mind, etc.)
• no further understanding of anything regarding details or how to confirm this hypothesis

Anyway, moving back to the fall, I find oodles of eager apologists who just know that the fall had to happen, but no one knows any answers to the above questions other than "It might have been...". Without any reasons to suspect the wilder of the scenarios, I'm quite inclined to take that which deviates the least from known mechanisms of operation in the world.

On to the graphs! Let's compare three qualities of humans in light of naturalism and a fall scenario.

Potential For Everlasting Life

Moral Culpability to a Divine Being

Direct Divine Interaction with Humans

I realize this last one isn't quite fall-specific, but it's related. God began directly talking to humans in some form when they gained souls, he did not connect with their parents in this same manner, and this communication carried on through the OT wars, prophecies, and miracles; ramped up to 150% when god was literally living amongst us, dropped back down to normal 100% levels for the rest of the NT to be written via inspired hands, and then drops back to 0. Some may argue that we have levels above 0, but I would dare to say that nothing like the OT or NT acts of god has happened since they were written. I'd quite like to see some parting seas, manna from heaven, soaked wood piles ignite, lepers returned to normal, or genetically inherent blindness reversed.

To wrap up, then, I simply find the naturalistic explanations simpler. Is it more likely that an immaterial soul was infused in us via god or via evolution or that we have no such thing and have evolved through natural selection like the rest of the creatures on the earth? Is our moral culpability in relationship to a divine being who suddenly made us know the do's and don'ts of the universe thus applying the penalty fo death to those who disobeyed, or does our concept of morality come from within the human sphere of existence? Is it more likely that we were suddenly in intimate communication with the creator of the universe (walked with Adam & Eve in the garden, called Samuel by name in the night, etc.) or that no such communication has ever occurred?

Nature, science, and simplicity prefer smooth curves, not ones with juts and sharp corners. I'm far more inclined to take the simpler scenario in these instances. For those insisting that there must have been a fall, I'd like to know why I should choose it over the assumption that we're no different from our nearest ancestors except that we've perhaps "cooked" a little longer or haven't figured out all the wonders that can arise when genetic material is tinkered with by chance for millions of years.

18 August 2010

Christianity's origins and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Ebon Muse at Daylight Atheism put up a STORY today of a cult that grew somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s, continuing until, I would imagine, some time around his death in 1990. The story is that of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and is just a fascinating read. Particularly of interest are the lengths his followers went to promote him and bring his teachings, ministry, and following into the political realm.

Anyway, Ebon writes up the story better than I can retell it here, so just get all of the details there.

While pure conjecture, I find it interesting when running into accounts like these (and there are many) to think back to the time of Jesus and wonder if we're really quite too generous with our assumptions. I hear all the time things like, "The gospel writers just don't seem like the types of people who were writing fiction/lies/myth" or "Do you really think people back then were being malicious?" or "Well, what do you think happened to the body then if the tomb was empty? Why would the disciples have any reason to steal it?" Things like that.

While I don't promote a disciple-theft explanation for the empty tomb (if it existed), I do think reading about all the crazy, crazy, crazy things that happened right under our noses in the last 1-200 years if incredibly intriguing and potentially even informative. In general I would guess that we think we're more educated, knowledgeable, informed, and skeptical and less superstitious, gullible, idiotic, and irrational than we were 2000 years ago. Perhaps not. If any of those adjective comparisons apply, however, how much more likely would it have been for followers to get all hyped up about the new amazing man who hits the scene than they already do today?

Followers in far more modern times have spread rumors of miracles for Sabbatai Zevi and Sathya Sai Baba. I've heard this come up in debate, particularly from Robert Price, and most theists just shoot it down as not applicable or simply that no myth could have sprung up from Jesus, since myths need to "cook" and arise later than a generation or so or else they are too easily disproven with recent evidence and eye witnesses.

I guess all I'm really trying to point out is that, while perhaps not convincing to anyone who believes, I find it fairly powerful to consider and ponder the human capacity for being hoodwinked, especially the further back on goes. Heck, a huge number of people today are in love with astrology and other forms of "magic." Why is it that difficult to read the accounts in the gospels with a skeptical eye about their veracity, likelihood, or even pureness-of-intent given the clear and massive amounts of evidence we have suggesting that religiously enthralled followers are not always interested in truth or purity-of-intent?

At the least, I think these types of things should have to be accounted for by those who swear that one reading the gospels should just "fall in love with its truth" or that the gospel writers were obviously wholesome when we have no evidence of who even were. I also think that the further back one goes, the more evidence would be needed to show that non-believers or enemies investigated the claims and could find no evidence to debunk it. To claim that they did this with the assertion, "The Romans or Jews would have produced the body when Christianity arose?", is just as silly as conducting interviews with you and your 10 closest friends and asking what evidence you personally know of against Sathya Sai Baba, Sabbatai Sevi, or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (though I'm not sure the former claimed to be like the former two, he just had a lot of people revering him and his teaching) and then assuming that if they weren't legit you'd obviously be able to come up with something.

Most likely you and your 10 closest friends (or perhaps an average non-[a]theism-blog-hanging-outer and his 10 closest friends) would not even know who these people were or what their claimed deeds were in order to even go about a debunking. Just as we're not overly concerned with a few thousand followers of Rajneesh, can we be sure the Romans or Jews were concerned with the uprising Christians? On one hand, some bring up the martyrs; on the other hand we have Pliny in the early 2nd century saying they were just a superstition.

Perhaps all I'm saying is that I find the lines brought up in debates, on blogs, and in person regarding the "obviousness" of various beliefs about the gospels, their writers, and the thinking of the time to be far less trustworthy when I hear stuff like this. Regardless of what conclusions are justified from hearing these reports, I nevertheless find them fascinating and wish I could just time travel back and be a fly on the wall for a few hundred years of ancient history.

17 August 2010

The bus and past TrueChristian(TM)-ness

I've recently decided to try taking the bus to work for a multitude of reasons:
• Environmental: I've liked the idea of using public transportation (or my bicycle, for that matter) over single-passenger vehicle travel for quite some time in order to play a part in reducing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Would it contribute much? No. Does it make me feel like I'm at least doing something to take a stand and foster by example a similar attitude and mindset? Yes. This desire was recently re-fueled (pun intended) when I learned that an oil spill released ~800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo river which dumps into Lake Michigan. Being from Milwaukee and still inhabiting the Midwest, this was disheartening, especially as it occurred in the wake of the oil spill in the gulf.

• Schedule: I am absolutely horrible at getting out of bed. I hate waking up, love sleep, and have just not mastered good sleep habits. Don't get me wrong, I know I should, but at the end of the day I'm just too interested in reading and doing stuff to go to bed when I should. I'm also delusional about how much sleep I need, or at least this is highly likely. I also overestimate how well I'll be able to self-motivate in the morning to get up when I want to instead of when I absolutely have to. 99 times out of 100 I align with the latter and not the former, usually feeling like a failure in some way for doing to... again. I'm hoping that the bus can help me get a schedule going.

• Productivity: I have a ton of books to read. Taking the bus will carve out about 10 hours per week of mostly uninterrupted reading time which will be pure awesomeness. I do worry that my hopes of conducting detailed notes/blogging as I get through books will suffer since I will be reading far faster than I can keep up on notes. I guess I'll either have to postpone posting (perhaps just copy the quotes I want to use and hope I remember the main idea until later?), or cut down heavily on what I actually write about each book (overall take, highlight of how it affected my view, or simply strongest/weakest points/arguments lists?).

• Balance: My Quest is incredibly consuming mentally and emotionally, but also with respect to units of time. I think that setting this reading time aside will help me focus more on my family when I come home rather than constantly wanting to get to my books or other quest-related endeavors. I see this as a creative way to actually increase both my time input toward seeking the truth and being a better father and husband.

• Financial: This is nowhere near a slam dunk. I am pretty convinced that taking the bus in my situation amounts to paying a premium for increased time for reading, a better schedule and life balance, and having something to point to showing I care about the future of the world. One possible exception is with the winter. I think it will actually be a huge positive to not drive in the winter. I subject my 1995 Mazda to far less wear and tear, opt out of driving when I get horrid gas mileage, and reduce my likelihood of crashing when the roads are bad.

Great. There's my thoughts on the bus. What about TrueChristian(TM)-ness, though?

Well, since I've begun my quest, and especially in talking with others and reading and commenting on blogs, I've noticed a trend in believers to accuse those who were once Christians and are now skeptics/agnostics/atheists/etc of never having been Christians in the first place. This is one of the things that bugs me the most, primarily because as the one actually going through this I think I'm the most qualified to answer the question of whether I was a "true" Christian. As corroborating evidence would be those nearest to me: family, pastoral leaders, those in my men's group, co-workers in the ministry I served with, co-workers now in my engineering job, etc. But a blanket statement by someone who's read a few sentences of mine on a blog or forum? No way.

I especially loathe the idea that after all this work and coming to the conclusion that the god of Christianity probably does not exist... I'll be written off as simply having a hidden moral agenda, hating god, preferring that god is not in my life, having issues with authority, this being a spill-over from a bad relationship with my dad, or supposing that "I guess he just never really knew Jesus." No, no, no. This is hard. Despite differences, each side should have to square up and say, "Here's someone who's done their homework, perhaps more than me. I can't just write him off. I've got to conclude that someone has examined the same evidence and reasonably concluded that the god I believe in does not exist." I want believers I know to receive a wake-up call as a result of my quest. It is my belief that everyone should go through what I am undertaking; namely, everyone should have reasons and evidence supporting their beliefs. Some do, though many I've talked to do not. I don't know what made me lucky in having my "dogmatic shell cracked" in order to even be able to consider that the case was not as strong as I thought, but it happened. Go through a thorough examination as an adult (or perhaps late teen) at the very least it gives one perspective on why so many others don't believe (not hard-heartedness but obscurity of evidence), and at best it may align one with a better portrait of reality in the case that they conclude they were subscribing to something untenable.

Anyway, I hope to write more about my past Christian-ness, but this new bus idea made me recall a particular anecdote. I decided to set up a novel alarm for myself at one point to try and help me get out of bed (I've been trying to make progress in this area for quite some time). I did it in response to someone sharing a link with me called Slay Your Dragons Before Breakfast. It inspired me and I wrote back with the following email (I blurred my first name and my wife's name):

This is simply to illustrate that about 2 months before deconversion (note the date compared to my first doubts at X-mas 2009), I was interested in "slaying my dragons" with an audio clip for an alarm clock. I listened to the clip today as I couldn't recall exactly what it was. To set this up, I typed up an assortment of some short scripture passages I found very inspiring and then read them with my Macbook's text-to-speech accessibility function while daisy-chaining the headphone port to the audio input in order to capture via GarageBand. I used the OS X alarm clock linked in the email to play that every morning for a while.

Anyway, I do want to write more on this topic (past Christian-ness) to demonstrate that I really was a strong and believing Christian. I mean, how many people do you know that would get really excited after setting THIS up as their alarm clip?

14 August 2010

God or not: what's the way forward?

This post is the result of reading, commenting, and reading comments on Debunking Christianity about why there seem to be natural explanations for everything if god exists, and a conversation tonight at dinner with a friend. It really go me thinking about My Quest from a big picture perspective.

I had dinner with my wife at the home of a married couple we're friends with tonight. I relate a ton with the husband. We met by fluke at a retreat in the early stages of my doubt. Having never met him before, I ended up finding out that he was a doubter, too! It was actually pretty amazing. We talked for quite some time afterward and I related with him quite a bit, especially since no one had yet even come close to identifying with my doubts and difficulties. Mostly I'd felt like others thought something was wrong with me or that I was somehow broken. We did have a somewhat different approach; he believes despite his doubts, while because of my doubts, I do not believe. We're both studying a reasonable amount in this area and are not certain.

Anyway, after dinner we got into a healthy discussion of our current pros/cons for belief/non-belief (it's been about 4 months since we last caught up). We went back and forth quite a bit about all kinds of topics like the fall, morality, the origins of life, whether the gospels are reliable/accurate, what belief really is (if it's chosen or involuntary), whether god could do any better at revealing himself, and so on. We covered quite a bit of ground over about 1-1.5hrs of discussion.

As perhaps is not surprising, neither of us were really convinced by each other's arguments. They went, approximately, like this:

- Him: how does atheism/naturalism explain x?
--- Me: I don't know, but it doesn't need to explain it at the moment, nor does not knowing establish god's existence via lack of explanation

- Me: I find x highly problematic or improbable (insert fall, resurrection, immaterial mind/soul, etc.)
--- Him: you don't have to believe x literally; (or) what about near death experiences?; (or) the resurrection is the most attested event in history and solidly backed by the gospels as evidence; (or) how do you explain the desire to be better than ourselves, our moral compass, appreciation for beauty/art?, etc.

I'm sure you all are aware of how these conversations go...

Getting to the meat... I've been undergoing my quest for god for about 8 months now and I find this conversation extremely typical; typical of what happens if you read two smart apologists on opposing sides of an issue, typical of debates, typical of blog comments... just typical all around. Both sides present what they find convincing themselves, and each opposing side says, "No thanks. I've considered that. Have you noticed the flaw with it here? Or have you read so-and-so's rebuttal? Now that's taken care of, consider my apologetic here..." and both sides continue on like this.

I'm no better and I think my friend would agree that we both are reasonably intelligent and yet neither of us found the other very convincing. In fact, we both probably walked away thinking our own arguments were stronger.

What really happened, though? What really happened, if I'm honest with myself, is that we just regurgitated arguments that have already existed in some form for hundreds of years if not longer. We simply presented what we've run arcross in our research as groundbreaking and convincing to ourselves, failing to really see that 1) it's already been thought/discussed, 2) it's probably already been seen by the other in some form, and 3) millions have held their beliefs in spite of (or because of) said argument/evidence.

Both sides can't be right, which brings me to the motivator to figure out who's wrong: pain, suffering, and overall muck.

I've literally found it awful on all kinds of levels that after living a life fully for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I would suddenly encounter convincing evidence that it might have all been a lie. I never saw it coming. I didn't ask for it. I wasn't living in sin as to deserve something like this. I went down to FL to visit my parents, prayed my rosary during plane takeoffs, and even had my mini Bible with me for prayer on the plane... yet I came back from FL an extremely doubt-plagued quasi-Christian. For whatever reason, my "dogmatic shell" was cracked and I was able to question for the first time... ever. I think this occurrence is significant and don't actually think that most believers are even able to consider that their beliefs might be wrong. I don't fault them for that, either. I am not convinced it's a conscious choice. With the "shell" intact, the idea that Christianity could be false does not even enter the realm of possibilities. Atheists could very well be in the same boat if they have no justification for their stance. I do consider anyone who has "switched sides" to be less suspect. Maybe that's unjustified, but, for example, anyone who tells me that they believe(d) in Christianity and can demonstrate familiarity with philosophical, scientific, and historical objections as well as their responses has my immediate recognition as being above average.

In any case, eight months later I'm pretty much where I was shortly after FL, though quite a bit more knowledgeable. Currently I simply don't find the case for Christianity strong in light of the inconsistencies/improbabilities I see. I find that my choices are between:
• Non-belief/atheism/agnosticism in which I simply have to bite the bullet and admit that I don't know a lot of shit (e.g. origins of life, consciousness, and morality)

• Christianity in which I have to believe many things that I currently find extremely unlikely along with things that think I'll never be able to defend conclusively. Thus I'll be forced to say, "That's just what I believe" or "It's just a mystery" or whatever else along these lines.

Given this... how would you proceed? I think I can only side with non-belief at the present moment. But there's obviously many who believe because they think there's a slew of rational evidence supporting their position and very little supporting non-belief (naturalism, atheism, whatever).

We're obviously in some type of stalemate. No one seems to be winning. Where is this going? What will be the resolution? No one is really coming up with any new arguments, but probably just regurgitating what they've read elsewhere and think is strong (myself included), and yet each side finds them falling on deaf ears.

In other words, both sides think they're right and both sides think they have the majority of evidence and argument on their side. What in the world are we going to do about this?

I've tried debates, blogs, books, thinking, praying, journaling, and so on. I have found all routes frustrating. Smart people abound, blogs abound, debates are short and both sides can sound very convincing though mutually exclusive, prayer has not worked but apparently there's good reasons for that, and so on. Since all mediums seem to be a huge assortment of ping-pong matches in which evidence and arguments are slammed back and forth with big paddles... what is the path forward to agreement? Someone is wrong and we need to find out who ASAP.

What are suggestions for how to actually go about this? Sponsor a week-long conference where all the big-heads get together and lay everything out on the table? A ridiculously cited, direct statement/rebuttal blog posting with the top 10 intellectuals on either side of the debate? A 5 year long mini-series where each of the various criteria for belief/non-belief are evaluated step-by-step? Heck, a 5 year long mini-series just on one topic like whether argument X succeeds?

If nothing else, I at least think taking a deep breath and admitting, "This is an extremely murky water I'm swimming in; those seeing different things than me might not be intentionally X ( X = hackneyed theist/atheist)," might at least make this journey more enjoyable even if it contributes nothing to productivity or fruitfulness. I simply want to be aligned with reality. I'd like to actually make progress, not spin my wheels in name-calling. I'd like to make this about simply finding out what's real. I don't care who's deluded, an idiot, stubborn, hard-of-heart, or whatever else...

Our focus should be on what describes the world most accurately, not on psycho-analyses of our opponents, predicting their level of education, or any other garden-variety internet attacks. Let's drop the baggage in hopes that we can reach a verdict faster.

I'm curious to hear from those who read this:
• Am I silly? Will we ever reach a solid conclusion about this or should I let it go?

• What are your top suggestions for systematically establishing who is right and who is wrong?

• What progress are we really making if it's evident that nothing really seems convincing except for the "home team's" own evidence/arguments?

• What even forms belief? Is belief formed and then retroactively supported by evidence or does evidence allow or lead one to believe?

09 August 2010

Book Series: Faith and Certitude | Thomas Dubay

In the following series, I'll be posting my notes on Faith and Certitude by Thomas Dubay. This book is part of the reading I am undertaking in my quest for the truth about god, heavily inspired by the Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge (Easy Version) from Common Sense Atheism.

I really had high hopes for this book. It was given to me in February while I was on a retreat I attend every year as part of the body of Christian laity of which I'm a member. I was extremely excited when I cracked it open, as Dubay asks from the start whether one can have religious certitude. "Yes! I want that!", I thought to myself.

Christianity occurred too quickly to be a myth?

Check out this amazing news story from Mobile, Alabama, where the locals gather yearly to try and see their resident leprechaun:

I've seen this before, but this weekend it struck me in an entirely new way.

08 August 2010

Dawkins | The God Delusion

Here are my comments on The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I read this book early on before I was taking notes. This book is part of the reading I am undertaking in my quest for the truth about god, heavily inspired by the Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge (Easy Version) from Common Sense Atheism.

This was the first book I read when I began to doubt. I ran across the title many times in my initial look into atheism, so I rented it form the library. I read it before I decided to take notes and thus my comments will be very brief. I don't actually recall much of the book, nor do I remember it being incredibly forceful in its arguments or approach. I actually only want to call to mind one passage:

Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers. It has been estimated that there are between 1 billion and 30 billion planets in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Knocking a few noughts off for reasons of ordinary prudence, a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe.

I was actually reading through this, which occurs in the discussion of the "Goldilocks Argument" for god's existenc while… going to the bathroom. The sitting down kind. It was quite late. I had never before read about how large our universe actually was. For a brief moment it was as if I got a glimpse of our smallness. It was quite profound picturing the earth rotating about the sun amidst an entire galaxy which itself is only one of 100 billion galaxies! It was exhilarating. Amazing. Somehow it all holds together. Incredible. I would actually call the sensation quite like that of a religious experience, but it had nothing to do with god. I don't recall much else of this book, but I loved the fact that amidst complete doubt of god I had an experience that was much like what I felt when I didn't doubt god.

I believe this is important as many think these kinds of experience and feelings are limited to being signs fo god's interaction with humans. I don't think this is the case, especially now that I've had such an experience reading the typeset words of an atheist! Awe and wonder are not monopolized by the religious.

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 23

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Twenty-Three: Why I Became an Atheist

I'm going to end on this chapter (there is one more) because I absolutely loved it. I think it might have been the best chapter in the whole book for me due to one little quote and the discussion surrounding it.

John quotes Terence Penelhum in what I consider a truly brilliant bit of wisdom:

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 20

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Twenty: Did Jesus Bodily Rise from the Dead?

Some of this chapter brings up what initially began me on my quest. I wondered if anyone outside the gospels had written about Jesus and googled it. I was heavily disappointed. Though some had written about him, all they mentioned was his name and that he had followers. The testimony of Josephus, containing the most details and incredible statements about him, was widely denied as being wholly authentic and many suspected most of it was a later forgery.

Why I Became an Atheist | Chs 17 & 18

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapters Seventeen & Eighteen: Virgin Birth and the Incarnation

These were quite interesting chapters. John starts off with a discussion of the dispute about Jesus' birthplace. I have also run into this objection and find it supporting, at the very least, that the gospel writers were 1) not interested in history, 2) not actually writing history, 3) not eye-witnesses or recipients of the eye-witness testimony or some combination of the three. Even if they were trying to write history, surely they could have followed up with others to obtain the necessary details about the early years of Jesus' infancy if they were so important to fulfill prophecies. One would surely think that these type of fact-hunting would have taken place for bolstering such key claims.

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 16

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Sixteen: Prophecy and Biblical Authority

This chapter was well done, but I admit somewhat of a heavy heart about it being convincing only because scripture seems (as I stated in Chapter Seven.One) to be so ridiculously obscure and difficult when it comes to establishing a convincing case one way or the other. I personally find the issues in it quite sufficient to cast doubts on it, but in attempting to discuss this with other believers, no one will have it.

Why I Became an Atheist | Chs 14 & 15

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapters Fourteen & Fifteen: Science and Genesis

This will be quite brief. Genesis is one of my current strongest objections to the Christian story. In my 7 months of searching thus far, there are few areas that I think can conclusively have the chance of being cornered in such a way that a decisive "true" or "false" answer can be compelling. As I have already stated several times, scripture, unanswered prayers, the problem of evil and many other avenues of discussion are quite frustrating because apologists can say approximately anything as long as it is not logically impossible. Impossible != probable, though.

Why I Became an Atheist | Chs 10, 12 & 13

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapters Ten, Twelve & Thirteen: The Holy Spirit and the PoE

I'm taking these chapters together as I don't wish to say much about them. The first is an argument I have a tremendously difficult time giving any credibility to, and my current position on the Problem of Evil is easy enough to summarize briefly.

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 9

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Nine: Do Miracles Take Place?

I'm quite unsure about arguments involving miracles. It seems that both sides have their fair share of arguments supported by evidence. Non-believers point to the overwhelming normality of every day laws, physics, the steady repetition of all kinds of known phenomenon that have not deviated from known principles and modes of operation, etc. Believers point to any and every case of something that appears to be unexplained, and in some cases the events truly are quite striking. I won't say much on this chapter as I find the topic difficult to focus on because of the vast divergence of views non-believers and believers have.

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 7.1

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Seven.One: Pseudonymity in the Bible

This was an extremely interesting chapter. I was unfamiliar with much of what John wrote about. Since reading this chapter, I have mentioned this in passing to some and I will say that pseudonymity does not seem to bother many people. Perhaps it should, but overall it seems that a liberal view exists of scripture in which it doesn't really matter that several authors may have written in the persona of another.

05 August 2010

FHTM and a little about me | Reflections (3 of 3)

The following is part three of a three part series about Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a Multi-level Marketing operation, my analysis of it, and how it brings out some of my qualities in relationship to my Quest for god. (Links to Part 1 | Part 2 | the REPORT that came out of my work).

Now that I've laid out the back-story to FHTM and linked to my analysis, what would I like to say about it in connection to my quest? Much!

In the last 7 months, I have often pondered the way I went about my quest. I began to have doubts as a result of encountering some information I took as surprising given what I would have expected were Christianity true. That's it. It was enough to simply make me wonder about it.

But that's a problem with me. When I wonder about something I am motivated to devour information until I come as close as possible to filling in my knowledge void about it.

FHTM and a little about me | Analysis (2 of 3)

The following is part two of a three part series about Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a Multi-level Marketing operation, my analysis of it, and how it brings out some of my qualities in relationship to my Quest for god. (Links to Part 1 | the REPORT that came out of my work).

In part one I covered the story set-up and some of the vague details about how FHTM works, though perhaps to someone completely unfamiliar with it... pretty poorly. I'll do a better job in this post. For now, though, let's just start where I left off. I had heard the story, my eyes were wide with what all that potential money could do, and he and I talked until probably 2-3:00am about all of this. I woke up and my wife and I went home. I cracked open the computer and started searching.

FHTM and a little about me | Intro (1 of 3)

The following is part one of a three part series about Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a Multi-level Marketing operation, my analysis of it, and how it brings out some of my qualities in relationship to my Quest for god. (Link to the REPORT that came out of my work).

One thing during my Quest that I've pondered often has to do with simply who I am. I'm a geek. Friends know this. I notice weird things. At a wedding the other day I pointed out that one side of a card was printed in Times and the other in what looked like Book Antiqua. I stare at the underside of Mall of America parking ramp floors (essentially, the ceiling when you're in a ramp) and marvel at the support mechanisms while also understanding that the concrete reinforcements are taller than they are wide because resistance to bending is determined by the width times the height cubed. I bought a road bike, then proceeded to take the entire thing apart down to the cassette (didn't have the tool...), clean it in my apartment bath tub with simple green and reassemble everything. No previous experience.

What am I doing, tooting my own horn? No. I'm trying to illustrate how my mind works. I want to understand everything.

That sets the stage for the following story.

01 August 2010

Why I Became an Atheist | Ch 8

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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus

Chapter Eight: The Poor Evidence of Historical Evidence

The primary thing that stood out to me in this chapter was John's point about basing eternal life on historical claims and occurrences. It is, indeed interesting to ponder that Christianity bases its morality and theology on ancient events. I would say, however, that theology is set in stone for the most part while any changes in historical facts simply affects which portions are figurative of literal. I can't imagine a discovery other than the near-impossible which would ever actually prove Christian theology wrong. One would need to unearth Jesus' skeleton and happen to have his dental records or uncover some other ancient text completely refuting another indispensable theological tenant. I don't see this happening.